Teaching Activities (Free)

Teaching to the Heart: Poetry, Climate Change, and Sacred Spaces

Teaching Activity & Article. By Michelle Nicola. Rethinking Schools.
Using Marshallese poet and climate justice activist Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s poem “Dear Matafele Peinam,” a teacher helps 7th graders think about the sacred spaces in their own lives and how they will be affected by climate change.

Time Periods: 21st Century
Themes: Climate Justice, Language Arts

Water Rushing Through Trees, from a Rethinking Schools Article
By Michelle Nicola

Take a deep breath in.

Hold it for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Now let it out.

This is what I tell myself as I feel my anxiety start to rise along with the temperature of our tender planet — and this is what I tell my class of 7th graders as we begin our first conversation about climate change. I want my students to understand the very real threat human actions pose to our planet, and I also want to give them tools that will help them be brave — instead of paralyzed — when fear arises. I want them to talk about places that are sacred to them so that they may better understand places that are sacred to others, and better connect with this critical problem we call climate change.

I first discovered Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner in 2014. She had just spoken at the U.N. Climate Change Summit and her poem, “Dear Matafele Peinam,” was going viral online. That summer I attended the Oregon Writing Project, and together with fellow teacher Patricia Montana, developed a lesson using her poem. Jetñil-Kijiner’s powerful piece blended dire reality with unwavering certainty that our actions matter. It was a perfect opening for our first conversation about climate change.

Climate Justice More Resources Ad | Zinn Education ProjectI open by telling my students we are going to start taking a mindfulness minute at the beginning of every class. I have them sit up in their chairs and tell them to have their feet flat on the floor, or at least pointed toward it.

“Put your hands on your desk or on your knees,” I say, “and have your eyes open or closed.” I wait until they are ready, gently coaching students with a gesture or smile to sit up a little straighter, or put their head down on their desk if the temptation to look around is too great.

“OK,” I say. “If this is the first time you’ve done this, it may feel a little weird at first, but just trust me, I got you.” A few of the boys giggle, but they stop, and I begin. Continue reading and download lesson.


Lesson originally published by Rethinking Schools | Zinn Education ProjectThis teaching activity originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Rethinking Schools.


Climate Justice Tell Your Story Ad | Zinn Education Project


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